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Nursing: Searching Tips

Tips for effective databa searching

The strategies listed on this page can be applied to most databases but are specific to CINAHL and MEDLINE.  Please check the help section of the database that you are using for search tips for that database.

 

Boolean Searching (AND, OR, NOT)

Boolean logic defines logical relationships between terms in a search. The Boolean search operators are and,or and not. You can use these operators to create a very broad or very narrow search.

  • And combines search terms so that each search result contains all of the terms. For example, travel and Europe finds articles that contain both travel and Europe.
  • Or combines search terms so that each search result contains at least one of the terms. For example,college or university finds results that contain either college or university.
  • Not excludes terms so that each search result does not contain any of the terms that follow it. For example,television not cable finds results that contain television but not cable.

Note: When executing a search, And takes precedence over Or.

Booleans and Parenthesis (Nesting)

To make even better use of Boolean operators, you can use parentheses to nest query terms within other query terms.

You can enclose search terms and their operators in parentheses to specify the order in which they are interpreted. Information within parentheses is read first, then information outside parentheses is read next. For example,

When you enter (mouse OR rat) AND trap, the search engine retrieves results containing the word mouse or the word rat together with the word trap in the fields searched by default.

If there are nested parentheses, the search engine processes the innermost parenthetical expression first, then the next, and so on until the entire query has been interpreted. For example,

((mouse OR rat) AND trap) OR mousetrap

Phrase Searching (Narrows)

Searching for phrases narrows your search (i.e., get fewer citations). Here's how it works:

In CINAHL, enclose the phrase using double quotation marks (i.e. "shift handoff") in order to find citations that have those words in the exact order.

Examples from a CINAHL search on March 3, 2021:

shift handoff finds 93 citations
"shift handoff" finds 30 citations

patient falls finds 16,157 citations
"patient falls" finds 14,854 citations

Strategies for Literature Review Searching

  • Enter your subject term/s and select "Systematic Review"  from the Publication Type menu
  • Check the Review Articles box to retrieve literature reviews, systematic reviews, and integrative reviews.
  • Check the EBM (Evidence Based Medicine) in order to retrieve mostly systematic reviews
  • Selecting Meta-Analysis from the Publication Type will also retrieve systematic reviews and meta-analysis
  • Check the Research box to retrieve results containing reviews

Note:
Look in the text immediately following the article title for a indication of what type of article it is, Research, Systematic Review, etc.

  • Select Systematic Review as the publication type. 
  • Check the Review Articles box to retrieve literature reviews, systematic reviews, and integrative reviews.
  • Check the EBM (Evidence Based Medicine) box in order to retrieve mostly systematic reviews
  • Selecting Meta-Analysis from the Publication Type will also retrieve systematic reviews and meta-analysis
  • Check the Research box to retrieve results containing reviews

Note:
Look in the text immediately following the article title for a indication of what type of article it is, Research, Systematic Review, etc.

 

Therapy or Etiology: Use article type filters Meta-analysis, Systemic Reviews and Random controlled trial. Add Cohort Studies [Mesh} to the search

Diagnosis: Add Sensitivity and Specificity [Mesh] to the search

Prognosis: Add Cohort Studies [Mesh] to the search

Select Advanced Search from the menu located on the upper left corner. 
Enter "literature review" as an exact phrase.

Wildcards

The asterisk (*) wildcard, also known as the truncation wildcard, is generally used to find word endings. Enter the root of a search term and replace the ending with the asterisk (*).

For example, type comput* to find the words computercomputerscomputingcomputation.

The asterisk can be used within words to find multiple characters.

For example, a search for hea*one will match words beginning with hea and ending with one.  Examples or search results are headphone,headstone, hearthstone.

The asterisk (*) can be used between words to match any single word.

For example, a search for midsummer * dream will match the phrases midsummer night's dream and midsummer day's dream.

To use the # wildcard, enter your search terms and place # where an alternate spelling might contain an extra character.

For example, type colo#r to find all records containing color or colour.

Type p#ediatric to find all records with pediatric or paediatric.

To use the question mark wildcard, enter your search terms and replace the unknown character with a question mark. 

For example, type ne?t to find all records containing neatnest or next.

Question marks at the end of words or character strings are not treated as wildcards. They are automatically removed from a query.

To use a question mark as a wildcard at the end of a word, you need to put a hashtag before the question mark character. The hash before the trailing question mark indicates that the question mark should be treated as a wildcard to find exactly one character at the end a word.

For example, a search for Monday#? will match Mondays but not Monday.

Wildcards can be combined in a search term. For example, the following searches are allowed.

The search term colo#r* will result in these example matches: colorblind coloring colorings colorization colorize colorized colouring colourings colourisation colourization colourize colourized colourizing

The search term p#ediatric* will result in these example matches: pediatric pediatrics pediatrician pediatricians paediatric paediatrics paediatrician paediatricians 

 

  • Wildcards are not allowed as the first character in a search term.
  • If there is only one leading character before a wildcard then, there must be at least one additional literal character within the first four characters.
    • f#r* (allowed because two literal characters are within the first four characters)
    • f??* (not allowed because only one leading character within the first four characters)
  • When using any wildcard in a search term, the plural or possessive forms and any synonyms for the word will not automatically be searched. For example; when searching for colo#r the plural words colors and colours are not searched.

Proximity Searching

Proximity searching is a way to search for two or more words that occur within a certain number of words from each other. The proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) and a number (to specify the number of words). The number cannot exceed 255.

The proximity operator is placed between the words that are to be searched, as follows:

  • Near Operator (N): N5 finds the words if they are a maximum of five words apart from one another, regardless of the order in which they appear. For example, type tax N5 reform to find results that have a maximum of five words between the beginning and ending terms, that would match tax reform as well as tax that has been submitted for reform.

  • Within Operator (W): W8 finds the words if they are within eight words of one another, in the order in which you entered them. For example, type tax W8 reform to find results that would match tax reform but would not match reform of income tax.

In addition, multiple terms can be used on either side of the operator. See the following examples:

  • (tax OR tariff) N5 reform
  • oil W3 (disaster OR clean-up OR contamination)
  • (baseball OR football OR basketball) N5 (teams OR players)